“I want you to take a look around and just take a visual image. Everyone in this room cares about you enough to be here and celebrate with you,” Steve Fugate told the 10 youth gathered with their guests at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Monday evening.
It was a high school graduation party just like many others these kids have attended. But, these aren’t just any kids.
Fugate and his company, Cargo Services, Inc., has had a relationship with the Indiana Department of Child Services for the past eight years, providing backpacks full of books for the Books for Youth program.
“And as we go through that process every year, we realized there’s a group of foster kids that we were missing and it’s the older ones that are transitioning out of the foster system,” he says.
“We have a lot of kids who at about 13, 14, they’re told, ‘You won’t be adopted. You’ll be on your own,’” says Stacy Lozer with DCS. “So, we have a whole unit called Collaborative Care and their job is to get these kids ready to go to the world.”
And the people gathered at the Colts complex on Monday night were there to send them off.
Kids who overcame the unthinkable and yet, they still had the focus, the mindset, the determination to finish high school – and are now moving on to the next chapter in life.
Kids like Jonathan, who graduated second in his class at Decatur Central and is headed to Purdue to study mechanical engineering.
“I’ve gone around and everybody has had their own little thing that they’ve done. Some of my friends have had theirs out at golf courses, others just at their house or at their church,” he says.
Jonathan’s mentors, Allan and Jeannette Shrum, say they’re honored to have him in their life. And to have played a role in his.
“He’s on the right track,” says Allan. “He’s got a great support group behind him.”
“He’s been through so much already,” Jeannette says. “You need to try to give stability and support, especially during these times when they’re being shaped and molded as the young adults that are going to be out there next.”
An open house is almost a right of passage for students graduating from high school. And for these kids, it’s a transition that’s even more significant.
“We want to provide normal opportunities for our youth. We have youth here who are celebrating their open house today who have never had a birthday party thrown for them,” says Will Lewis from Indiana Connected by 25. “So, having an event like this at the Colts complex, a community staple in terms of partnerships and rebuilding, is really important for their development and their self-esteem.”
“I’m pretty excited. It feels nice to know that I actually achieved something,” says Brandon, who graduated from T.C. Howe and is going to Ball State this fall.
Brandon’s brother, Eric, is headed to IUPUI.
No matter what’s going on in life, for Eric, school is the one place he can focus.
“As soon as I hit school doors, the first thing on my mind is, ‘If I graduate high school, if I graduate college, if I work on getting my diplomas, being in the situation I am now will be altered in the future. That’s how you change family history.”
Rookie center Austin Blythe, a recent graduate from the University of Iowa, had some words of encouragement for the students.
“Don’t let others define who you are. Let your actions define who you are. Those actions will speak way louder than anything anybody can say about you. And that’s how I try and carry myself on the football field.”
Blythe says he uses anything negative as fuel and it powers him to work even harder.
“I’ve heard I’m too small, way too light, way too short, arms are too short, this and that and the other thing. But here I am, pursuing my dream, my goal that I had as a little kid.”
At the Indiana Farm Bureau Football center, you don’t have to look far for inspiration. The banners that hang in the pavilion bear the names and faces of guys who got knocked down and refused to stay down. They got back up, dusted themselves off, and pushed on – just like these kids.
“I congratulate you that much more for all that you’ve shown and all that you are,” Doris Tolliver of DCS told the graduates. “You are what’s possible.”
And their possibilities are endless.